CARBONDALE — The SIU men's basketball team landed one of its top recruiting targets Tuesday, just a day before the spring signing period begins, with a verbal commitment from 6-foot-10 post Kavion Pippen.
Pippen, a Hamburg, Arkansas native who played two years at Three Rivers (Missouri) Community College, will have two years of eligibility if he signs with the Salukis. Pippen, the nephew of former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen, averaged 10.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game for the 25-8 Raiders last season. His 53 blocks in 27 games ranked 33rd in the nation.
Pippen's verbal commitment was first reported by jucorecruiting.com. Pippen did not immediately return a message left for him Tuesday.
Three Rivers coach Gene Bess, the winningest junior college leader in America, said he always expected a double-double from Pippen, and usually got it.
"He's got a tremendous upside," Bess said. "He was one of my favorite players ever. He came a long way. He's got great hands. He's a natural ball-screen-and-dive to the basket kind of player."
Pippen's verbal commitment is non-binding. He can sign an official national letter of intent with SIU beginning Wednesday. SIU coach Barry Hinson can't publicly comment on Pippen or junior college shooting guard Eric McGill, who committed to the Salukis earlier, until they sign national letters of intent.
Pippen shot 54.9 percent from the field and 67.3 percent at the free-throw line. He started 17 of 27 games, sharing time with Houston signee Gabe Grant, and grabbed 79 of his 196 rebounds at the offensive end.
The Salukis lost starting forward Sean O'Brien, the team's top rebounder and second-leading scorer last season, to graduation. Their only returning post player with much experience is senior forward Thik Bol, who started all 33 games and blocked 76 shots.
Bol averaged 9.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game in his first Division I season. SIU also returns 6-6 junior guard/forward Jonathan Wiley, who came off the bench in 31 of 32 games, 6-8 junior forward Austin Weiher and 6-9 forward Rudy Stradnieks. Weiher didn't play in nine games last season, and Stradnieks averaged only 7.8 minutes a game off the bench.
The Salukis were able to recruit Pippen because of the de-commitment of incoming freshman guard Demarius Jacobs of Uplift High School. Jacobs and his brother, Markese, who has verbally committed to Kansas, transferred to Hillcrest Prep in Arizona. Demarius Jacobs had not academically qualified for a scholarship when he committed to SIU, and it is not clear if he would have been eligible for it had he stayed with the Salukis.
Pippen joined McGill of Panola (Texas) College and 6-2 guard Jeremy Roscoe in SIU's 2017 class. Roscoe didn't academically qualify for a scholarship in 2016-17 and is paying his own way in order to get four years of eligibility beginning in 2017-18. The Salukis also get fifth-year guard Tyler Smithpeters back from injury, and Saint Louis transfer Marcus Bartley, who sat out last season per NCAA rules. Bartley is expected to battle for the starting point guard spot this winter with sophomore Aaron Cook.